Tutorial: To Strobe or Not?

In the world of product photography, you’re probably working with multiple strobes and complex lighting arrangements.

This is good and all, but sometimes you don’t really need flash lighting. To illustrate, let’s take a look at a recently completed project of mine.

The Job

The client had a variety of Christmas trees in many sizes and colors. He wanted a “natural and warm” look, showing how the trees would look in people’s homes. The shoot was done on two different occasions in two different studios, so consistency from shoot to shoot was a concern.

The Problem

At first I experimented with studio strobes, trying to achieve a balance between the ambient light and the Christmas tree lights. It just didn’t work (too bad that I deleted all the examples).

The tree lights are very important to show the ambience of the tree. By flashing the studio strobes, I found that it killed all the ambience of those lights, so I found another way to make it work.

The Solution

To achieve the requisite warm look, I simply use the modeling light on the studio strobes. With one on each side fo the tree at 45 degree angles, and a bit of Amaran LED in the front for fill light, we got just the look the client was aiming for. Each exposure was roughly 1/2 second, which brought out the ambient light in a way that a fast shutter could never achieve. You can’t really see here in the picture, but you can see one softbox on the right with modelling light activated.

Conclusion

Just because you have a studio and strobes at your disposal, doesn’t mean you always need to use them. Sometimes a simple continuous light source (my case) or simple light reflector (in this case) will be good enough. Going into this project I fully expected to be firing strobes the whole time, but in the end, I learned that you don’t always need flash to get the shots that make your clients happy.

Before Processing

After Processing

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